By the time Chef Liv Vasquez arrived in Portland, in 2011, cannabis was on the verge of being legalized in Oregon.
Seizing the moment when it finally was in 2014, Vasquez began educating herself on ethical cannabis, its myriad health benefits, and how it could be incorporated into food. Eager to create what she calls an “empowering cornerstone of knowledge about cannabis” for people wanting to experience it beyond a high, Vasquez parlayed her talent and opened LivvieSmalls Events, which curates high-end restaurant-style pop-ups, serving microdosed courses of cannabis cuisine and dispensing plenty of education.
“Safe, intimate spaces to learn and consume with other cannabis enthusiasts,” she says, describing her distinctive events. “Not a stoner party, but an environment with meaningful dialogue around cannabis. I’m helping normalize asking questions. And I especially like to involve women and help amplify their voices and maybe inspire them to explore opening cannabis-based business.”
So, Vasquez has expanded her enterprising resume: canna caterer, canna mentor, and cannabinoid infusion and absorption specialist.
Vasquez’s primary motivating factor for designing event-based cannabis encounters was more about destigmatizing the plant and elevating its healing and medicinal effects than jumping on the emerging haute cannabis cuisine bandwagon.
“Lots of people have had less-than-positive experiences with edibles, and my cannabis-centric events essentially bridge the gap, showing them how to enjoy it without having cannabis-induced anxiety,” Vasquez says. “My events like High Tea and High Noon Brunch provide a point-of-entry for people new to cannabis and others who want to add to their knowledge. I create an ambience that combines well-executed, carefully dosed food with conversation, camaraderie, and education. Producing memorable pop-ups is muscle memory for me.”
Getting a seat at the table involves a dash of cloak-and-dagger intrigue that is still part-and-parcel of the cannabis dining experience. Because Vasquez takes her cannabis show on the road, event locales might include a farmer’s greenhouse in Portland, a rooftop garden in LA, a lush vineyard in Napa, or a private residence in New York. Interested guests contact Vasquez for a paid reservation (events range from $75 to $250 or more per person), and if they’re lucky enough to get a ticket before limited seating sells out, they will be transported by private coach to the event space.
Participants are treated to Vasquez’s “cannabis sommelier” persona and impressive culinary chops. She discusses the flavors, smells, and lineage of marijuana strains like wine experts talk about vintages, terroirs, and palates. Sourcing high-quality local ingredients, pairing creative libations with the food, and vetting cultivators and farmers are priorities for Vasquez, who insists that transparency is essential in the exploding cannabis industry.
“Responsibility is so important in the cannabis industry as it grows … I want to be part of that discussion and ask the hard questions and help people understand what can be considered a complex topic,” she says.
Vasquez admits she’s over the moon with her latest burgeoning career venture, which she sees as “introducing people to a new celebration with cannabis,” she says. “Using food as a learning tool, watching people be totally in the moment during a pop-up. It’s rewarding and exciting.”
BY Jeanne Stern. Photography by Ali Limon Photography